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Dairy Focus: Feeding Your Dairy Herd in 2008 a Challenge

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J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension Service dairy specialist J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension Service dairy specialist
NDSU’s dairy specialist offers tips on reducing feed costs.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist NDSU Extension Service

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series on the impact of the growing ethanol industry and rising feed and fuel prices on the region’s dairy farmers.

A year ago, who would have expected prices of feed and fuel of this magnitude?

Now, with milk prices retreating from all-time highs, the record cost of production is literally eating away profits. The next several months will be interesting, to say the least.

As we face these new challenges, this is a good time to consider several factors when making your near-term planning decisions.

Grouped cows are one of those factors. When BST, or bovine somatotropin, was more widely used, we had less incentive to group cows because we could reduce the drop in production experienced by cows in late lactation. One-group total mixed ration herds also were easier to feed and manage.

However, with higher feed costs and more variation in daily milk yield, we have more incentive to group cows. Premium ingredients can be utilized in rations for fresh and/or high-production groups when an economic return from more milk, higher components or improved health justifies their expense. Suggested minimum groups are:

  • Fresh cows – first two to three weeks of lactation
  • High-production cows
  • Low-production/late-lactation cows

Making wise purchasing decisions is another factor. Here are some ways to make good decisions:

  • Become informed about market trends. Subscribe to information services that provide timely, brief reports on market trends. This information also will help you negotiate in an informed manner with your feed supplier.
  • Develop relationships with several feed suppliers. Their long-term goal is for your continued profit (and theirs). A little competition is good for everyone. However, loyalty to good service and reasonable pricing will encourage the supplier to stick with you when times are tough economically. A good supplier will relay market trends to you in a timely fashion and help you manage feed costs. Don’t switch suppliers at the slightest burp in feed prices of one supplier compared with another.
  • Evaluate the relevance of ingredients. What is the cost of each ingredient? What does it provide to the ration? What are the benefits of continued inclusion in the ration and the risks of economic losses if it’s removed from the ration? What are the limitations to higher, economical production for the herd? If somatic cell count exceeds 350,000 or days in milk exceed 225 for the group, feeding some premium-priced ingredients likely will not elicit an economical return. Ingredients with marginal returns for mid to late-lactation cows and in lower-producing herds include amino acid supplements, probiotics and fat supplements.

Controlling shrinkage is another method of reducing feed costs. Losses of forages and some commodities can exceed 25 percent of the delivered quantity. Here are some ways to reduce forage losses:

  • Manage the silo face by using a facer or shaving the face from the side with the unloader.
  • Control weeds around silo bags by spraying with herbicides.
  • Use electric fencing to discourage animal damage to bags.
  • Use gravity flow bins for high-priced ingredients that are not used rapidly.
  • Train feeders to minimize dropping excessive amounts of forages or commodities while loading mix wagons.

Also consider the purchase of feed management software. These technologies enable managers to monitor loading and feeding accuracy as well as shrinkage. Once deliveries of commodities or grain mixes are entered into the inventory, the system will deduct amounts utilized as cows are fed, thereby enabling a comparison of what the cows receive to what was delivered. This technology also provides a convenient way to track dry-matter intake of groups of cows within the herd and relay it to the nutritionist.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663, jw.schroeder@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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